Gifts from Sweden

<strong>In the Attic</strong>
In the Attic

Sweden is a country small in population. My ancestors did not come fro there, but three of my closest friends in several stages of life have been Americans of Swedish heritage, and quite apart from my personal circle, Sweden has given far more than its share of gifts to the world.

For example, in politics, Olof Palme; in science, Svante Arrhenius; among film directors, Ingmar Bergman; in world affairs, Dag Hammarskjold; in recognition of excellence, the Nobel Prizes; in transportation, the Saab and Volvo; in cuisine, the smorgasbord; among movie stars, Bibi Anderson, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo.

I will resist the impulse to add brief descriptions of each of these, but want to focus on a couple of them.

A physical chemist, Svante Arrhenius made many basic contributions, including the calculation, before computers, of the extent to which increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide raise Earth’s surface temperature. This was one of the first warnings that widespread burning of fossil fuels would lead to global warming, a phenomenon that is denied today, 121 years later, by people whose so-called “free market” ideology would be upset by the truth.

Olaf Palme is important not only for what he did in his own country, in large part as Prime Minister, but also for advancing the concept of “common security” as an alternative to the Cold War. This concept impressed Mikhail Gorbachev so much that he proposed a moment of silence in honor of Palme at the 27th Party Congress in what was then the USSR. Without this concept, would we have seen the USSR surrender Eastern Europe or reduce, at least somewhat, the danger of nuclear war?

Thus, it was Swedes who early addressed the two defining issues of our time, global warming and the danger of nuclear war.

One of my own friends contributed to reducing one of these dangers. The late Don Carlson used to describe himself as “a dumb Swede.” He was so dumb that he helped invent the real estate investment trust and, before turning to philanthropy. accumulated a fortune.

When I was working as a book creation coach, in 1984, I had lunch with him as a prospective client. As usual, I asked about his goals. He said he wanted to help end the Cold War. I gently said this goal was noble but would be difficult. Nobody then expected the Cold War ever to end. “I know it’s impossible,” said Carlson, “but it's necessary.”

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